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The World Cup roster for the United States men’s national team drops and our writers react

There are some surprising omissions and inclusions, including Jordan Morris, Haji Wright, Zack Steffen and Ricardo Pepi.

United States men's national team soccer coach Gregg Berhalter speaks on Nov. 9 as the team's roster for the World Cup is announced.
United States men's national team soccer coach Gregg Berhalter speaks on Nov. 9 as the team's roster for the World Cup is announced.Read moreJulia Nikhinson / AP

It’s here! Eight years after the USA missed out on going to the World Cup, the men’s team is back in the tournament and the roster of players going has dropped.

With a number of players on the squad settled abroad, the USA manager, Gregg Berhalter, has more options than ever to pick from. Here’s what the Inquirer’s soccer staff thought of the choices.

Gus Elvin: I will start in goal with Sean Johnson going over Zack Steffen. Steffen has played in big games, even with youth national teams, and has rarely been an issue while Johnson has been relatively untested when it comes to those types of moments at the international level. Both have had some recent shaky moments at club level but I’d of gone with Steffen from an ability standpoint and due to his ability with the ball at his feet. That said, as a third goalkeeper, sometimes it’s about more than that – see Nick Rimando – and not having Steffen might take some pressure/distraction away from Matt Turner, who now looks the clear No. 1.

The other big surprise was taking Haji Wright, who while in fine form for Turkey with Antalyaspor (9 goals in 12 games), has played just 118 inconsequential minutes in his career for the national team. He did very little with those minutes and quite frankly, looked in over his head in a short sample size, and Gregg Berhalter almost said as much. We all thought this would come down to Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi and given Pepi’s recent uptick in form in Holland and Pefok’s resume in Europe over the past few seasons, I would have been fine with either. Wright is a huge gamble IMO and while I like having a bigger, target forward on the roster, particularly off the bench, I think Berhalter went with the wrong one. Glad to see Josh Sargent rewarded for his breakout season at Norwich and it’s hard not to feel good inside about Jordan Morris, even though, I’d of preferred Paul Arriola, fighting his way onto the team after two ACL injuries.

» READ MORE: Olivier Mbaizo becomes the first active Union player to make a World Cup team

While it’s easy to quibble and second-guess every roster decision, if everyone is healthy, the starting XI minus one or two spots picks itself. My questions are who scores the goals up front and who the centre-back partnership is and how that comes together. Walker Zimmerman figures to be a starter but who partners him between CCV, Aaron Long and … (gulp) Tim Ream? Once an area of strength for the national team, this group is a worry and has a big task on its hands against England and even Wales. Miles Robinson and Chris Richards are big misses here due to injury.

With a strong midfield with Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson and talented wide players like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Tim Weah, even with question marks at striker and center-back, there are reasons to be excited. Remember, four years ago we weren’t going to the World Cup at all.

Andrea Canales: Boy, do I remember. That was a wakeup call for the whole program, but also seemed to set up a new emphasis on giving young players a chance. Now things are quite different, and hopefully, that bodes well for when the USA, Mexico and Canada host in 2026. Philadelphia as one of the host cities - and this roster is young enough that we can consider the current World Cup a sneak peek of who might be in their prime come that time.

I had Haji Wright on my final “going to Qatar” wish list, but as a winger, not a striker. Perhaps it’s that versatility that pushed Wright ahead of Ricardo Pepi. Not really sure.

I’m definitely surprised to see Steffen not make the roster, but perhaps speculation is accurate on him not being interested in going as a backup to Matt Turner. It’s just weird, because for so long Berhalter stuck by him. It’s a little humiliating, too, as Steffan has been the honorary co-chair for Philadelphia’s World Cup bid. Well, Philadelphia got picked as a 2026 host city, but Steffen didn’t get picked for the 2022 roster. Who could have predicted that?

I could write on essay on why I’d take Mark McKenzie over Tim Ream, but I do see an argument about Ream being a team leader, experienced veteran, glue guy, and how much weight that holds with some coaches. Then again, I’m old enough to remember 2002 and when a-step-too-slow Jeff Agoos ended up being a drag on that talented team despite bringing those qualities.

After all my worries about whether Reyna would be healthy enough to contribute, the gamble is on Luca de la Torre healing up fast enough to be a factor. Which, I like DLT, but I’m surprised he’s worth that gamble. Maybe his injury is lighter than we’ve been led to believe, however.

Jordan Morris over Ricardo Pepi or Jordan Pefok has my eyebrow raised up into next week, frankly. Morris hasn’t been his former explosive self since his return from injury and it’s likely to be exposed and exploited on the international stage. His soccer savvy has improved, but if that doesn’t compensate for the speed he lost enough to make him effective against Concacaf teams, I don’t have high hopes here.

But I’m quibbling, because in the main, the Philadelphia area stars we expected are there, of course — Aaronson and Pulisic. They’re both playing well and I think Aaronson has a chance, with his insane work rate, to have more impact in the World Cup than many expect. Defenses often zero in on the biggest names of a team, and Aaronson is still emerging on the international stage.

This is the most stacked and loaded USMNT roster I’ve seen go to a World Cup, and that’s exciting. They’re young, and if they catch fire in the group stage, watch out.

Jonathan Tannenwald: I was as surprised as anyone by Steffen’s omission. Berhalter invested a lot of time in Steffen in World Cup qualifying, and to turn on the guy like this seems strange. Is there more to it than just form? A whole lot of us who were in Brooklyn for the roster announcement asked questions of Berhalter, and he didn’t give a direct answer. The news conference video is on YouTube -- fans can see for themselves.

One would think that Turner had better be the No. 1 goalkeeper now. Berhalter indicated he’s leaning that way but it isn’t set yet. I wonder who’s No. 2 - and I don’t think I’d mind if it’s Sean Johnson. He’s as reliable a pair of hands as there is in the pool.

Among defenders, Shaq Moore over Reggie Cannon was a surprise, but I suspect Moore lands behind both Sergiño Dest and Joe Scally (who can play either flank) on the depth chart. I feel bad for McKenzie, but it’s hard to object to Ream with how well he’s been playing for Fulham. And it puts another veteran in the locker room, which this young team needs.

I can’t really object to Cameron Carter-Vickers either. But I am not a big fan of Aaron Long, and that caucus is pretty big. The fight over that is long done, though, because it’s been clear for some time that Berhalter would take him. That said, I’m sure some Union fans haven’t forgotten how Jack McGlynn toasted Long at Red Bull Arena in September, with U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart watching from the suites.

In midfield, I’m good with Cristian Roldan overtaking Malik Tillman. I think Tillman has a lot of talent, but he hasn’t played well for Rangers in Scotland lately. Roldan might be the 26th guy on the squad, but it’s fine with me for the 26th guy to be a good locker room and practice presence. He also can play a bunch of positions, which helps.

With Morris over Arriola, I think it’s pretty clear that Berhalter picked Morris’ versatility -- he can play in all three spots on the front line -- over Arriola’s good track record as a defensive closer. And I’ll take Berhalter at his word on saying he did not enjoy making that pick.

As for the strikers, wow. A few names got leaked the day before the roster announcement, but Wright wasn’t one of them. There was an audible gasp among the fans in Brooklyn when his name was announced. But good for Berhalter for picking a striker in form, and for picking a real target forward when we weren’t sure he would. I like Pefok a lot, as all of us do, but between Wright’s hot streak and Pefok’s cold streak I think we all get it.

I feel bad for Pepi because he made the right move in going to the Netherlands to get his form and mental side back, but it blew up on him. That’s another guy Berhalter invested a lot of time and energy in, then turned on at the last minute.

I am not a huge Ferreira fan - that won’t surprise any of you or our readers. He can do some good things, but I’m not convinced he can do them at the World Cup level. I’d rather see Sargent as the starting striker and Wright and Ferreira come off the bench.

» READ MORE: U.S. men’s World Cup team full of surprises: Haji Wright and Tim Ream in, Zack Steffen out